Sunday, January 10, 2021

The Baptism of Our Lord

The Baptism of Our Lord (B)

January 10, 2021

Text: Mark 1:4-11

            Forty years of wandering in the wilderness.  Every member of that generation, 20 years or older, who came out of Egypt, had died, save Caleb and Joshua.  Now it was time for their children to inherit the Kingdom of God.  But not before a Baptism.  To get from the wilderness into the Promised Land, they had to cross the Jordan.  And this is how it would happen.  The Ark would lead them.  The Ark of the Covenant, the throne of God, the Ark of His presence.  The priests carrying the Ark would step into the river.  And the moment their feet touched the waters, when the holy Ark entered the Jordan, the mighty river would cease flowing, and the children of Israel, led by Joshua, would pass over on dry ground.  So it happened, a repeat of the Red Sea for the next generation.  When God enters the water, He leads His people through, that they may enter into His Land.

            So it is no accident that we find ourselves at the Jordan this morning.  John is there, baptizing in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4).  The crowds are coming out to him, all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem.  Because they know they are a broken people.  They know they are a rebellious people, like their fathers before them.  They are sinners.  And even though they dwell in the Land of Canaan, the Land of Promise, they recognize that as they stand before God, they are not yet where they should be.  So they enter the water with John for a baptism of repentance, confessing their sins.  John understands that his baptism is preparatory.  The fulfillment is yet to come.  And it is coming in the Mightier One, the strap of whose sandals he is unworthy to untie, the One whose way the Baptist prepares.  John baptizes with water, but when that One comes, He will baptize with the Holy Spirit. 

            And He comes, the Mightier One, John’s cousin and Lord.  And what happens?  He Himself steps down into the water.  And now the new and greater Ark has come into the Jordan.  Jesus.  In Hebrew, יְהֹושֻׁעַ, Joshua!  God is in the water with His people.  And it is that, it is He, who gives the water its potency, its power!  Jesus enters the water, that those in the water with Him, baptized into Christ, may enter the Kingdom of God.

            What is Baptism?  Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s word.  Which is that word of God?  Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Matthew: ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ (Matt. 28:19)”[1]  By His Word and Command, Jesus places Himself in the water for us, at the Font.  And as we enter the water with Him there, a great exchange takes place.  Jesus comes into the water, righteous and sinless, needing no Baptism for Himself.  But we enter the water, wicked and full of sin, in need of a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  In Baptism, our sins are washed away, as surely as Naaman’s leprosy was washed away by God’s Word and Promise (2 Kings 5)  They are left there in the water, where Jesus soaks them up into Himself, that He may put them to death in His Body on the Tree.  But so also He leaves something behind Him in the water for us.  His righteousness.  His sinlessness.  His holiness.  And so, in Baptism, not only are our sins forgiven, we are given all that belongs to Jesus. 

            But there is more.  As the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus at His Baptism, so He descends upon us in ours, to open our eyes and ears to the things of God, to give us faith in Jesus Christ, to sanctify us and keep us, to give us new and eternal life, and one Day, to raise us bodily from the dead.  Now, we don’t get Him visibly, in the form of a dove.  But we get Him audibly, by His Word. 

            And as the Voice from heaven announced to Jesus at His Baptism, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11; ESV), so the Father declares to us at our Baptism.  We don’t hear the Voice coming from above, but we hear it as the pastor speaks in God’s stead, and by His command, and so it is the very Voice of the Father.  Beloved.  God’s own Child, I gladly say it.  But not only Child.  Son.  That is, Jesus.  You are tucked into Jesus.  You are clothed with Jesus.  You are covered by Jesus.  And so you get the whole inheritance with God’s Son Jesus, the very Kingdom of God.  And God declares that He is well pleased with you on account of Jesus.  That is, you are justified, righteous in God’s sight, on account of the righteousness of Jesus, given you in Baptism.

            Thus it is true, what the Catechism teaches us, that Baptism “works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare… ‘Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.’ (Mark 16:16).”  Faith receives what Baptism gives, even as in Baptism, God gives the very faith to receive it.   

            And this is important, because it trips so many people up.  Baptism is not our work for God…  It is God’s work for us!  It is not as though Baptism is a good work we do to be saved, nor is it simply obedience to some divine ordinance that is otherwise meaningless.  Baptism saves because God is the One who baptizes.  He does it by the Pastor’s hand, but He is the One.  God brings us to the Font.  He does it in the case of infants by the arms of parents and Godparents, or in the case of adults, by their own two legs, but He is the One who carries you there.  His is the Word.  His is the Voice.  He is in the water.  The Father speaks.  Jesus accomplishes it.  The Spirit hovers over it, to fashion a New Creation.  Baptism… now saves you,” Peter says (1 Peter 3:21).  (H)e saved us…” Paul says, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).  So many Protestants reject the idea that Baptism saves, because they think Baptism is our work of obedience to God.  But that isn’t what Scriptures say.  Baptism saves, because it is God’s work of grace.  And the greatest picture of that is a baby brought to the water by his parents.  Helpless.  Unable to make any kind of decision for Jesus.  Unable to rationally understand what is happening.  Unable to coherently confess it.  Probably screaming.  Maybe stinking.  Already staining the pristine baptismal gown with spit-up or worse.  But then, that is all of us.  That is a picture of you, no matter how old you were when you were baptized.  The older you are, the better you are at hiding it, but God knows you are a screaming, stinking, helpless baby.  So thank God, there He is, to clean you up, and put you in Jesus.  This could no more be your work than it could be the infant’s.  God does it all.

            Now you are passing over, and there is Jesus, our Greater Joshua and the Ark of God, with you in the water.  And that is something to remember, always, in this life.  You are in between.  The wilderness is behind.  The Promised Land is before you.  But right now, you… you are in the water with Jesus.  Or better, Jesus is in the water with you.  It is not that you were baptized, as some past event.  It is that you are baptized, a present reality.  And that changes everything.  This is now your daily reality.  There with Jesus in the great in-between.  Still suffering the pains of the old world, but filled with the hope of the New that is coming.  You do still sin, to be sure, but there you are, in the water with Jesus.  And that means that every day, you drown Old Adam.  You repent of your sins, for repentance is nothing but a daily return to Baptism.  And every day you emerge and arise as a New Creation in Christ, to fight against sin and to do the righteousness that is already yours as a gift in Christ.  You are baptized into His death.  You are baptized into His life.  You die with Him.  You are raised with Him… spiritually now, bodily then.  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4).  Even as you sin every day, so you are forgiven every day.  You have the Holy Spirit every day.  Every day the Father says of you, that you are His beloved Son, with whom He is well pleased.  Every day, there is Jesus, in the water, with you, for you.  He is bringing you over, to enter His Rest.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.                         

[1] Catechism quotes from Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).

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